Some accidents have good consequences. The accidents that stopped me farming, made me become a city boy and precipitated me into Singapore in my mid-forties didn’t always seem like good accidents. The consequences were very good and I am eternally grateful for that. And to the people who made up those consequences. All good fortune depends on others and ‘counting your blessings’ should really be ‘counting your benefactors’.
When told I was going to Singapore, I cried for a week. The Far East seemed very far. My children were, all but one, leaving school and heading out into the world. I would be alone in a strange country with obscure rules and unknown cultural traditions. My flight out of Heathrow was so traumatic that the aircraft attendants – or Singapore Girls as we called them – were concerned. They paid me lots of attention.
They need not have worried. I quickly fell in love with Singapore. The kindness of the people, the devotion to work, the spirit of enterprise instilled by LKY, the sheer energy of the place meant that I was busy from dusk till after dark. Safety and order made exceptional progress possible. Building a business here was a joy. The eleven years it took to build and float Cerebos Pacific were among the happiest I have ever had. But then, I have been happy since I was twenty.
Singapore has changed over the forty years I have lived here. The buildings are taller, the traffic denser. Success has brought with it some consequences we were not prepared for. Expectations have been raised to a high level. The impact of the world has become greater. We are part of a developing ASEAN, watching the fragmentation of the European Union and the possible breakup of the United Kingdom.
We hear the voice of Trump sounding division rather than unification. We watch as Russia or North Korea potentially precipitate another cold war. We wonder how well President Xi can manage China, and especially its relations with the democratic world. We wonder if democracy as developed in the West is as efficacious as we used to think. We are a tiny, vivacious island in the midst of power and prejudice. Steering Singapore has become a tougher proposition.
We are still the greenest city in the world. Look out of your taxi window and see how amazingly beautiful the trees and shrubs are. We are blessedly safe, orderly and behaved. Many of the world’s standards have become vulgar and trivial. You won’t hear vulgarities or drunkenness much in Singapore. We lead in diversity in developing countries. Some will say Singapore is already developed and it is true that we have first world standards and better.
I think however that Singapore is still very much developing. Not just its business and trade but its multi-ethnic culture, its embracing diversity and its growing wisdom. 54-year-olds may be getting wise but they still have some way to go, as do we all. That wisdom is coming. The attention to the arts, to the history of Singapore – 200 years since Raffles landed here – and to the beauty of its city buildings all combine to make a thoughtful and appreciative life.
It is always good to wish Singapore a Happy Birthday. This year I wish it all that it wishes itself and add a very sincere thank you from the bottom of my heart for all that it has done for me and mine. Mentoring, coaching and training Singaporeans has been the greatest joy of my life and I pray that I will have some more time to continue doing it.
May Singapore grow in wisdom and stature to model for a disrupted and uncertain world.